Giving students a taste of engineering


WITT targeted girls' schools when launching an engineering 'taster' course this year; hoping to increase the number of girls in the Year 13 Engineering Fundamentals course. The institute has also established three new scholarships for this year's students.

Giving students a taste of engineering

The Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) launched a Year 11-12 engineering taster course in Term 3. Kyle Hall, Programme Manager Engineering & Trades, says they aimed to engage students by including a ‘take home’ end product – a fidget spinner. As well as giving the students some engineering knowledge and skills, it was a good opportunity to present an overview of careers in engineering and the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) pathway.

The Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (STPP) team targeted girls’ schools for this event, with 10 of the 11 students coming from New Plymouth Girls’ High School and Sacred Heart Girls’ College (New Plymouth). One Year 13 New Plymouth Boys’ High School student asked to join, so that he could get some engineering experience before starting a NZDE next year.

Developing a fidget spinner

The students designed and manufactured their fidget spinners, which involved learning about numerically controlled (CNC) machining centres and lathes. They were introduced to concepts such as: transferring computer-aided design (CAD) drawing through computer-aided machining (CAM);

Students attended one day a week over four weeks. The course included:

  • Basic CAD work
  • Designing a fidget spinner
  • Transferring CAD (computer-aided design) drawings through CAM (computer-aided manufacturing)
  • Post-processing to generate G-Code (a language the CNCs operate from)
  • Prototyping through 3D printing
  • Industry visit to hospital bed manufacturing company Howard Wright; the firm is at the leading edge of manufacturing technology, with many automated processes.

Students want to find out what’s involved in engineering

“The students were fully engaged with this visit.” says Kyle, “They asked very inquisitive questions related to the design and manufacturing processes, and about how the firm takes a product from the drawing board to finished product.”

Some students were already thinking of a career in engineering but wanted to find out more about the options. Others said they liked science and maths subjects so were interested to find out about careers where they could apply this knowledge. “I wanted to see if engineering is something I’d like to get into.” “I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I like science.”

Promoting engineering as a valid career option for girls

The schools involved were positive about this opportunity for their students; with Sacred Heart changing its exam timetable so a student could attend the whole course. Careers Adviser Brett Zimmerman is keen to get New Plymouth Girls’ students involved in this type of initiative.  “They don’t have much awareness of engineering, and generally it’s only if they know someone in the industry.”

“Our students want to see the big picture. Career choice is such an important decision – they need all that information in front of them.” Brett notes that lots of girls want a job where they can make a difference, “They want to make their lives count, make the world a better place.”

Raising awareness of the NZDE at school

WITT is bringing a mini careers expo, featuring engineering, to New Plymouth Girls’ in Term 4. Tutors will provide information and run engineering-related activities, and current students will be available to talk about what it’s like to study engineering.

Role models make a big impact, says Brett. “Students really listen when it’s an ex-student or someone just a few steps ahead of them.” His plans for 2018 include bringing in Futureintech Ambassadors, including early-career engineers who can talk about the pathway into their roles.“As well as promoting careers in engineering and the NZDE, we’ll support students who haven’t taken the requisite subjects. Even if they’re in Year 13, we can point them to catch-up physics or calculus classes over summer.”

Engineering Fundamentals students keen to complete their course

The Year 13 Engineering Fundamentals course is progressing well, although some students haven’t yet achieved the NCEA or NZDE credits they’re working towards. This, noted one deputy principal, is possibly because his students underestimated the higher level of tertiary learning, and the challenges of self-directed learning.

All, however, are still keen to complete the course, so WITT tutors are offering extra tutorials during the holiday period to help them catch up. This shouldn’t be a problem for future students – those enrolling will have a better understanding of the need to self-manage to keep on top of the workload.

WITT Scholarship for Engineering Fundamentals students

WITT has established three new scholarships for the Engineering Fundamentals students. Angela Ferguson, Faculty Leader – Engineering, Trades & Secondary Pathways, says are aimed at encouraging students to begin their engineering study with the NZDE. Each scholarship is worth $1,000, and is available for students who have passed the Engineering Fundamentals course and enrolled in the WITT NZDE programme.

Extending engineering initiatives to more schools

The STPP team is keen to reach more students in more schools next year. While there is some student interest in the Engineering Fundamentals course in schools such as Hawera High School, travel is a major constraint. Kyle says they could possibly look to deliver the course at those schools, but that would require a minimum number of students to be worthwhile.

The team will repeat the engineering taster in 2018, probably earlier in the year to avoid the exam preparation period. And, says Kyle, they’re also looking at other ways of getting students into the course. “We’d be keen to take it into schools and teach with the teachers, so it’s professional development for them as well.”

Case study: Promoting the local option
Case study: Promoting the middle pathway to engineering

Out thanks to Kyle, Angela and Brett for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

October 2017